James Shield: The big question spawned by Sheffield United interview
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“For me,” Prince Abdullah said, during what was initially designed to be a review of a promotion-winning season, “I think the most difficult moments of my life were from November until the end of the season. I put all of the money I can put in. I borrowed all the money I could borrow, and then had two choices.” Those were, he went on to confirm as the club’s problems off the pitch became even more acute: “Sell the club or sell players. I was very optimistic and did not want to jeopardise the team’s chance.”
That was arguably the most rewarding decision he has made, in monetary terms at least, since deciding to counter Kevin McCabe’s bid to regain sole control of United five years ago; one which, following an acrimonious High Court battle, saw him effectively acquire a Premier League club for £5m although a number of costly conditions were attached. It’s back there now, thanks mostly to the remarkable efforts of Heckingbottom, his players, staff and those who support them, who ignored all of the distractions and finished second in the table as well as reaching the FA Cup semi-finals.
But a burning question remains. Given that neither Iliman Ndiaye or Sander Berge were offloaded in January, when United were still operating under a transfer embargo which had been imposed after they fell behind on the debts, what actually happened to stabilise the situation? Because with Dozy Mmobuosi trying and so far apparently failing to convince the powers-that-be that he could demonstrate the resources required to cover their £115m asking price, United weren’t sold either.
The ban on drafting reinforcements was lifted using money generated by the march to Wembley and the agreement of one footballing creditor to renegotiate the payments they are still owed following a previous player purchase.
We know that. It’s a matter of record. What we don’t is how United saw the rest of the campaign out after retaining both Ndiaye and Berge. Or whether the torment Prince Abdullah told his interviewer he was going through around the Christmas period stemmed solely from the knowledge United were about to be hit with a sanction by the English Football League?
All will probably become clear when - and given that no one remains in charge forever, it is definitely when - Prince Abdullah exits the throne. One suspects, unless he is now minded to carry on since United are back among the game’s elite, that a change could occur in the not so distant future.
In the meantime, providing they are sensible and show a degree of foresight which has clearly been lacking in the past, the £170m United are guaranteed to receive over the course of the next three seasons should ensure our focus remains fixed on the pitch - where it should be - rather than events off it.